The Fall of Box City: Havoc, chaos, and sheer delight with @ChaniTheunissen

A special guest joins us on the blog today. Chantel Theunissen, Children and Teens Librarian, Koraunui Stokes Valley Community Hub, and editor of New Zealand’s Library Lifetells us how she orchestrated havoc, chaos, and sheer delight to commemorate the closure of a temporary library in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Let me start off by saying all of my favourite things I’ve done at work (and in life really) haven’t been planned.

I’m very que sera sera about most things; I like authenticity and organic experiences…

…so this is how my final day at the Stokes Valley Temporary Library came to be what it was.

For the past 12 months, 2 weeks and 5 days, my team has been in a temporary space – the Stokes Valley Freemasons Lodge Hall.

We have had a beautiful new building created on the footprint of our old library.

Did the lodge serve its purpose? – Yes.

Was it ideal? – Less than.

It was blue, very blue, and was one room. So programming over the last year has not been what I would like.

I made the most of the situation, but it’s been difficult, especially for kids’ stuff. We’ve leaned towards the more silent activity genre. Anyone who knows me knows that this is particularly trying for me as I am anything but the strong silent type!

We had planned to do a ‘Box City’ themed school holiday event: basically we had some Xerox boxes lying around and kids could decorate them. Not that inspiring, really.

The night before our programme, my work mate texted me and said that for her last day she wished she had a bell to ring and shout ‘shame.’ The last year had been our Game of Thrones and we should bust the place down (all very haha jokey jokey of course!).

I told her she was a fool and I loved her and went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up and thought ‘Why don’t we make a Game of Thrones?’

I thought it would be cool for us to gather all the recyclable materials we had lying around and get participants to construct a city. I made a mental list of all the things we’d need (boxes, tape, string, etc).

I work in a high deprivation community so it’s really important to me that crafty activities and events I hold are with things that parents and carers could easily recreate in their own homes at little to no cost.

I had this image in my head of the kids then storming their city and tearing it all down. It made me excited, so I knew it was going to be a goer.

When I got to work, Terisa was on board. She started constructing her iron throne. The rest of my team deemed us crazy but let us get on with the task at hand.

I was pretty fluid regarding the timeline for the event. I budgeted 90 mins all up for the session and would play the timing by ear, dependent on how engaged the kids were in the activity.

So Terisa and I went down to the new building and there was SO MUCH STUFF we could nab. The new tech equipment was there and that meant all these lovely huge packing boxes and so much bubble wrap and polystyrene.

This led to us filling my itty bitty car (it took four trips with the windows down and card sticking out) down to the Lodge.

I put a message on FB and signs on the Lodge doors – ‘The shelves will be moved back during 1-3pm. At this time the collection will not be accessible’.

We had the big open space all to ourselves. (Well, big for us!).

I was delighted with the amount of people that came. No mother in their right mind is going to want their house to get absolutely trashed, so why not let that happen at the library instead?

Quite often in my work there’s the tendency to put a limit on the fun level that can be had: ‘You can X amount of fun as long as it’s inside these parameters’.

For this session I thought ‘screw it, just let them have fun’.

So the little humans arrived.

I explained the premise to them:

“Outta all this stuff’ we are going to create ‘Box City’. You can make a house, a castle, a tower, a bridge, you can make whatever you want as long as you are having fun.”

I told the big humans that part of the deal was that they actively participate in making the city as well.

I did an OTT 10,9,8 countdown and then off they went. I think I finished by the countdown by screaming “Create and have fun!”

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And boy did they ever. It was so heart-warming to see parents and the kids working together, especially the dads, who at a lot of our other events will just sit on the side lines.

One pair made a working draw bridge, another family made a Rapunzel style tower, there were lots of houses, it was pretty great.

Once they had created their city, looked at it and snapped some pics, it was time to demolish the joint!

It was interesting to see how this evolved.

At first they were a little reserved — kicking and punching the boxes and yelling, but still quite confined.

About 90 seconds into it though, I saw a noticeable shift. They went wild!

I saw kids picking up polystyrene and smashing it with their heads, shy kids who may not vocally engage with us get mega into it and go insane smashing things – it would have been a little terrifying if it wasn’t so great!

Library mess angel
Photo supplied by Chantel Theunissen. Used with permission.

I think the best thing for me was the end. It was a mess. But sometimes you just need to embrace the messy. So I lay down and started making polystyrene snow angels. Some kids lay down and started doing it too.

And yes, there was mess, A LOT of mess to clean up at the end. But you know what, it was totally worth it. One parent said ‘that was the most amazing thing I think my child has ever done’ and for me that made the whole experience worth it.

Follow Chantel on Twitter for more fab work from New Zealand libraryland.

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